Billions Season 2 Review
Given the current attitude towards our economic climate combined with the result of last year’s election, and there are suddenly more intriguing reasons for watching the sophomore season of Showtime’s Billions. It doesn’t hurt matter that the series has decided to turn many of last year’s ideas on their head, and added several intriguing new characters.
Last year’s clash of titans between hedge fund billionaire Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Wall Street attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) ended badly for everybody concerned. Bobby managed to escape prosecution, but only at an immense cost to his reputation, when it came out that he had made his fortune on events directly related to 9/11. Chuck’s failed prosecution has damaged his standing public, and has now brought him under scrutiny from the attorney general who wants to fire him. The biggest loss came to both men to the woman they had in common, Wendy (the always fascinating Maggie Siff),. Chuck’s wife, who left them both, walking out of the marriage and her job at Axe Capital.
Now, as Season 2 begins, rather than resume business as usual, the series reversed direction. Now Chuck is in severe trouble and Bobby is trying to finish him off. Though Chuck managed to barely escape being fired by the AG in last week’s episode, he is still struggling to survive a massive class action lawsuit against him arranged mostly by Bobby, and which the Justice Department has taken the unprecedented step of not defending him. In addition, a DC investigator Oliver Sach (Christopher Denham, who plays as if he were auditioning for a series created by the other Sorkin in TV) is looking into his methods and conduct. Ironically, while Rhoades did a lot of things last season that were borderline unethical, he may now be nailed on a bonus payment to his wife that has only the appearance of being illegal, but is one of the few things last season that wasn’t. Throw in the fact that his marriage to Wendy is in a non-existent phase, and Chuck is looking in bad shape.
Not that Axe is willing to just let this go. Driven to his limits, he literally tore the place apart in the final episode, and now is trying to desperately rebuild his company and his reputation. He’s walking an equally fine line; when Sach comes to him, and offers him immunity for a bribery charge, he turns down the sure chance to see Chuck indicted because it means Wendy will be as well. He seems to be taking the loss of Wendy almost as hard as Chuck is, and it’s making him even more reckless, getting angry when he can’t purchase an NFL team, and demonstrating very petty behavior at a poker tournament mainly for Wendy’s benefit.
As is often the case in a Showtime drama, the more intriguing characters are the supporting cast. As Wendy tries to find a new job and accept her new reality, there is a firmness to her behavior as she finds herself unable to emerge from the muck that much of the two dove into last season. Axe’s second in command, Wags (David Costabile), continues to show unwavering loyalty, despite signs that he may be overindulging in alcohol and prescription drugs. Such loyalty may not be present in Connally, Rhoades loyal second, who in the series most shocking moment so far was revealed that he called the feds in about Rhoades unethical behavior last year. And in one of the more astounding turns, the most fascinating new character is the first gender neutral character on TV. (Asia Dillon): Taylor, an intern at Axe Capital, who seems like a real genius at almost everything, who operates solely under the pronouns ‘they’ and theirs’, and who seems to have a clear read on everybody, especially Axe. If this continues to play as well as it did last night episode, we may have new Emmy discussions down the line.
Billions is rapidly becoming one of the most entertaining series on TV, with one of the more well-used guest cast (in addition to everybody previously mentioned, Eric Bogosian, Terry Kinney and Danny Strong have all got intriguing new parts) If anything, the series is now guilty of trying with too many new things, its letting some of the older ones slip under the radar. (Malin Ackerman has yet to be used to her best benefit so far.) But with the departure of Masters of Sex, this may be Showtime’s best drama on the air, and considering the company its keeping, that’s impressive.
My score: 4 stars.